April 21, 2014

Hinsdale-Bickford adds stage to her many roles

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Former CVU student to perform in ‘The King and I’

April 28, 2011

By Phyl Newbeck
Observer correspondent

Mary Hinsdale-Bickford (Photo courtesy of Mary Hinsdale-Bickford)

Mindy Hinsdale-Bickford never felt she was a natural for the theater.

The former Champlain Valley Union High School student grew up dancing and auditioned for theater productions with her eye on the dancing roles. In second grade at Charlotte Central School, she earned the part of Liesl in “The Sound of Music.”

Her next big break came as a junior at CVU, where she was cast as Daisy Mae for the school production of “L’il Abner.” Convinced she got that role because of her blond hair instead of any talent, Hinsdale-Bickford said: “I never considered myself a theater person even though I enjoyed doing it.”

Nearly 30 years later, the actress who once thought she wasn’t a natural will play Anna in the Middlebury Community Players’ performance of “The King and I” beginning Thursday.

“The King and I” is one of Hinsdale-Bickford’s favorite musicals but even if that weren’t the case, she’d probably still be thrilled. That’s because the performance will be a family affair. Her husband, Bill Bickford, will play the part of the King and her daughter, Molly Bull, will also be in the show.

Hinsdale-Bickford met her husband in the theater, while playing Cinderella in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” but this is the first time they have played opposite each other in a musical. The couple has had leading roles in theater productions, but things have never quite worked out for musicals.

“Sometimes he’ll get the lead and I’ll be in the chorus, or vice versa,” she said. “It’s a dream come true to do this with my family.”

Aside from the family dynamics, Hinsdale-Bickford admits she has always wanted to play the part of Anna. She has read a number of books about the character, including Anna’s autobiography. The musical is based on the true story of an English governess/tutor in Siam (now Thailand) in the mid 1800s.

“She was a strong woman and a brave person,” Hinsdale-Bickford said. “It’s such an exciting story to think that a woman would do what she did and make such a difference in that country.” In addition, Hinsdale-Bickford likes the fact that “The King and I” has a wide range of musical numbers, from light, fun tunes to those that are deeply emotional.
“It’s challenging,” she said. “A lot of musicals don’t have as much depth.”

Hinsdale-Bickford, who also had a role on the line in Lyric Theatre’s recent revival of “A Chorus Line,” would audition for more shows if time permitted but her day job interferes. She runs the Steeple Ridge Farm in Charlotte and finds that the summer horse show season limits the number of plays and musicals in which she can participate. In fact, the timing of “The King and I” is less than ideal because it cuts into her time at the farm.
“I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t the show I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “I savor every moment on stage but because I’m so busy with my business, I have to pick and choose what I do.”

Hinsdale-Bickford loves her work with horses, but noted that she got back into theater as a way to discover a life outside the barn. She credits Bill Reed and his voice studio in South Burlington with helping her find her voice.

“(Reed) really taught me how you can explore yourself through musical theater,” she said. “I just love to take a song or a scene or a character and explore them and find how I can personally relate to them and share that,” she said. “It’s almost like therapy.”

“The King and I” will play at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury from April 28 to May 8 with 8 p.m. showings on April 28, 29, 30 and May 5, 6, 7; and 2 p.m. matinees on April 30, May 1 and 8. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Tickets are available through the Town Hall Theater Box Office at 802-382-9222 or online at www.townhalltheater.org

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